The single most important thing that an architecture firm can do to become successful is to create good architecture. Unfortunately, there are many other considerations to business success, especially in our current world that is driven by PR and marketing. For every architecture firm’s founder, one of the first—and biggest—decisions they must make about their public profile is what to call the company.
Gone are the days when architects would simply name their firm after themselves and sell their designs to their cocktail party associates. Today, architects need to court new clients in a competitive marketplace, and to do that they need a name that stands out. To help new firm owners (and long-term dreamers) to pick out an effective name and return to the important business of architecture, here is ArchDaily’s list of things to consider when naming your firm.
1. Selecting an Original, Memorable Name
Of course, the most important part of choosing a name is selecting something memorable which is connected, in some way, to the company itself. There are two main options here:
Option 1: Naming the Practice After Yourself
Using one’s own name as the basis for the practice name has fallen out of fashion recently, as many architects have begun to emphasize collaboration over the concept of the individual “hero-architect.” However, from a purely practical standpoint, there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with this approach.
However, this approach requires a difficult moment of self-reflection among firm owners, since—and this may be hard for some to hear—not everybody’s name is unique or interesting. If your name is John Smith or Emma Jones, this approach probably isn’t for you. If you’re setting up a partnership, the combination of two or more last names make it more likely that you’ll get a catchy result—but for every combination as memorable as Venturi and Scott Brown, there’s a Johnston and Lee out there too (the latter got around this issue by cleverly throwing in a first name to create Johnston Marklee).
Another option within this genre of names is to name the practice after yourself and then use that name’s acronym—the approach taken by practices like BIG and MVRDV. However, it’s important to know that sometimes real names are more memorable than a string of letters, so knowing whether you should use this technique can be something of an art form.
Picking an Original Name
An increasingly popular approach is to invent a name from scratch. The benefit of this approach is that it allows you to build some marketing right into your firm’s name, by inventing a name that somehow reflects the values of your practice. One of the earliest and most well-known examples of this approach is OMA, the Office for Metropolitan Architecture.
However, if taking this approach, be careful to avoid cliches or anything too forced. This is a chance for you to prove your creativity to prospective clients, and you don’t want to fall at the first hurdle.
2. Cultural Considerations
Consider How Your Name Works in Other Languages
If you’re planning to run a local practice, this probably won’t affect you much. But for those with international ambitions, it will pay to run your name through Google Translate in a few languages first (or if possible, ask people who speak those languages). You don’t want your future clients to find your name offensive!
3. Legal Considerations
Check That Your Name Isn’t Already Taken
The world is a big place, and there are only so many names in it. If you name your practice using your own name, or if your invented name isn’t as original as you thought, you might find that another architectural practice has already had the same idea. If that practice is in the same country as you, this can be a serious problem, as in many countries the older company can legally force the new one to change its name to protect their business interests. However, two practices in different countries with the same name can still cause confusion, and the situation should be avoided if possible.
4. Technical Considerations
Check That a URL is Available
One of the central components to marketing a firm these days is to have a company website, and that website should be easy to find. Just as you should make sure that another architecture firm hasn’t already taken your name, you should make sure that another company (of any type) hasn’t already taken the most sensible URL for that name.
Don’t Use Punctuation or Unusual Formatting!
Less than decade ago, strange, quirky punctuation began appearing in project names and even some firm names throughout the architecture world. Thankfully, the practice seems to be on the decline, but perhaps not quickly enough. Web URLs will make a mockery of your cleverly-placed square brackets and your superscript formatting—and we’re not just talking about your own URL. If you’re planning on publishing your work on any online media outlet, ArchDaily included, your work is likely to be organized using tagging or a similar system, and quite possibly every website will botch your name in a different way.
This rule even extends to simply writing about your firm. If your name includes punctuation, how are readers supposed to know that the punctuation in your name shouldn’t affect how the overall sentence is read?
5. PR Considerations
Consider Your “Short Name”
Unless your firm’s name is already very short, it’s likely that in conversations and in writing, people will shorten it for convenience. There are two main ways this can be done: by dropping the most generic part of your name or by using an acronym. In some cases, both techniques might be used for the same practice—for example, depending on the context, “Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners” might be referred to either as simply “Rogers Stirk Harbour” or “RSH+P.”
It’s a good idea to exercise some control over this. If your firm’s name is long, there’s probably not much you can do to stop people doing this, but you can plant the seed for your preferred version by using it on your website and in any official communications such as emails and press releases. Clients and the media will likely adopt the short version that they have already seen before.
Is It Clear How Your Name Is Pronounced?
It can be easy to forget, in our advertising-saturated world, that word of mouth is still among the most powerful forms of advertising. Word of mouth is made even more effective when everyone is on the same wavelength about how to pronounce your firm’s name.
Know Your Own Name!
This may sound obvious, but you’d be surprised how many employees of “ABC Architects” think that their firm’s name is interchangeable with “ABC Architecture.” The same goes for capitalization and other details of how your firm’s name is written—make sure that every time you or an employee writes the firm’s name, it is written exactly the same. If your firm name has a “short version” as outlined above, make sure that it is only used in such a way that the full version is obviously the official one.
6. There Are Always Exceptions
Once again: the best way to find success as an architecture firm is to be good architects. That’s why, even with all of the above considered, there are still firms like Coop Himmelb(l)au or 5468796 Architecture who find success despite their clearly unusual firm names. And, if your work is good enough, you may even find people take pride in remembering that string of numbers correctly, or explaining how the parentheses turn the name into a clever pun. An unusual name can be a marketing gimmick in itself.
But becoming well-known takes time, and while you’re languishing in obscurity your name might be hindering you from making the next step. Breaking the rules outlined in this article isn’t a death sentence, but it does require bravery and determination.